Jenessa Gonzales/Turnagain Times
The congregation at Girdwood Chapel gathers in the new building built by volunteers as interim Pastor Linda Jean Meyers delivers a Sunday sermon.
By Jenessa Gonzales
Turnagain Times Correspondent
Girdwood Chapel United Methodist Church was abuzz with excitement Sunday, March 3, over the arrival of Mona Blackburn, who recently donated her family’s prime Girdwood property to the church.
During a breakfast reception in between the two morning services, church members were able to meet Mrs. Blackburn, and express their gratitude.
Mrs. Blackburn, who served churches in Alaska for 12 years with her late husband Rev. David Blackburn, now resides in Palo Alto, Calif., near her three children. It has been five years since her last visit to Alaska when she came up with 14 family members to dedicate the steeple at Anchor Park UMC. She is thrilled to finally be back.
“I leave tomorrow,” she said a little regretfully. “But I have been royally entertained by so many friends and family, and it’s just so good to be with you today. It has been such a trip down memory lane for me to be back with you all, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.”
Set beneath the shadows of the Chugach Mountains, the Blackburn’s property has lain unused for decades. Mrs. Blackburn and her husband purchased the 1-acre of land in Girdwood back in 1954 for $125. They spent their free days building the cabin.
Mrs. Blackburn spoke fondly of those early days working on the cabin, balancing the work and caring for her new baby daughter.
“You know,” she said, “the Eskimo women used salmon boxes for their babies because they were nice and sturdy. So she [her daughter] lay in her salmon box while we worked on the house. It was just a beautiful place to be with all the mountains around.”
When time and circumstances led the Blackburns to California, Alaska never left their hearts and minds. Most recently, during her local church’s annual “Joy of Giving” event, Mrs. Blackburn was asked to speak.
“When our enthusiasm for our cause reaches a stage where we want to tell others about it, we’ve already reached the point where we are giving something of our own,” she said. “It warms our spirit to talk about the joy of giving, but it takes action to convert this form into lasting joy. Let’s do something now about it.”
And Mrs. Blackburn heeded her own words of advice. Advised by the superintendent of the Alaska Conference, Mrs. Blackburn decided to gift her unused land to the Girdwood Chapel.
“I’ve had that land for so long, and I never knew what to do with it,” Mrs. Blackburn said. And as much sentimental value as all those years spent in the cabin with her family hold for her, Mrs. Blackburn has risen willingly and graciously above those feelings.
“We were getting no use out of it, and I knew that the church could find value in it. They will use it in the best way, I’m sure, to whatever their needs are, and that’s why I wanted to give it to them, because I know they’ll find a use for it.”
At Sunday’s service, the gratefulness expressed by the members of Girdwood Chapel was immense.
“This donation comes at an opportune time,” said interim Pastor Linda Jean Meyers. “Girdwood Chapel is on the cusp of doing some great things, and this kind of came out of the blue. It was a surprise. It has been a tremendous blessing, and will be, for years to come.”
Following the move of longtime Pastor Jim Doepken to Seward, Girdwood Chapel has been going through a period of transition, determining who they are, and what their place and future in Girdwood will be. They stressed five major tasks for their growing church to complete during the six-month interim period of selecting a new long-term pastor. With determination, the congregation looks back on its past work in the community, as it works toward the future to establish a new identity and rethink its denominational linkage, and its commitment to a new leadership and new future.
And the future is looking bright. Their new chapel building, with rustic high beamed ceilings, and a warm, lived-in feeling, serves as a meeting place for members to fellowship and worship, and decide how best to serve their community.
Almost eight years in the making, relying mostly on volunteers, the building is a labor of love. When the floors were first installed over four years ago, the congregation met and prayed, sitting on the new floors, claiming it as their new home. A beautiful hand painted cross hangs on one wall, made from the alter that was used in the former, tiny chapel.
Mrs. Blackburn’s timely donation has lifted the spirits of all who call this church home. During the second service, following Sunday’s breakfast reception, grateful members presented Mrs. Blackburn with tokens of gratitude: ivory carved ornaments and a Girdwood Chapel table book. Surprised and delighted, Mrs. Blackburn stood to address the congregation once more.
“So it’s your land now,” she said, “and whatever you do with it, for the good of the church, is what I want.”
Girdwood Chapel has already had an offer on the property, and in all likelihood it will be sold to pay down debt, and create fresh hope and direction. Whatever the outcome, the grateful hearts of the giver, and the recipients of this donation, will not soon forget the timeless lessons of the power of the joy of giving.